You spend a lot of time and money creating your estimate, and that data is valuable well beyond estimating.

Many companies use their estimating software for one thing only - to create a bottom line estimate of the cost of a project. But that's like building a five-story building and then using only the first floor. Why should project managers spend hours, days or even weeks re-entering the information already in the estimate? The data from the estimate, used properly, can help project managers run jobs more profitably and efficiently.

Today's more advanced estimating systems make it much easier to manipulate and access the data in the estimate for use in managing projects. Some provide the ability to designate an item or a group of items as belonging to a particular system, drawing, floor and even alternate bid.

This capability, often called "scoping," allows project managers to quickly select certain parts of a bid and break them out for scheduling, budgeting, purchasing and delivery, and labor management. Project managers can manipulate the data from the estimate any way they want to, without any redundant input. The software then compiles this data in a file compatible with the accounting or scheduling software of their choice. It can also generate reports based on these different breakouts.

Systems featuring graphical takeoff make this scoping process even easier and faster. With this on-screen visual display of all systems, users can simply drag their mouse across a portion of a system or drawing to instantly specify the category for all the parts simultaneously. And they can easily re-scope items differently for different needs without going through thousands of lines of takeoff items.

Typically, a project will need to be broken out differently for scheduling than for budgeting and differently again for purchasing and delivery. The most effective estimating systems allow for multiple designations of the same takeoff item. Thus, if a project manager needs a budget category for all hot water systems but wants to deliver parts by floor, he can simply designate the takeoff items as both, creating categories and subcategories for each item or area of the project. This can be done when creating the initial estimate or after winning the job. Either way, it only takes a few minutes.

Let's take a closer look at how this data can be used to make common project management tasks faster and more efficient.

Project Scheduling

Setting up a project schedule is one of those time-consuming tasks that no one likes to do. On larger jobs, it can sometimes take several days. However, with the scoping capabilities of today's estimating software, this enormous task is much easier and faster.

After taking a few minutes to designate the scopes in the estimate, project managers can just click a button on their estimating software to export the data to their desired scheduling software such as Microsoft Project or Primavera. The software then automatically opens with the work hours in place for each user-designated task category. There is absolutely no re-typing necessary, and the project manager can immediately begin assigning manpower to each task to meet the project deadlines.

Job Cost Budgeting

Do the project managers in your company spend hours or even days creating their job cost budget? This is where using a graphical takeoff estimating system with scoping capabilities can save them a lot of time. The project manager simply needs to select on the graphical view the systems and regions that are part of specific cost code categories. Then, with a click of the mouse, they can create a file that their accounting system can read.

Bag & Tag

Contractors generate profit by efficiently managing their materials and manpower requirements. Today's estimating systems can help them do a better job of this, particularly in purchasing and scheduling delivery of materials to a jobsite. Using their scopes, project managers can run bills of materials for different floors, systems, or user-defined areas of the building. They can then give that information to the supply house for bagging and tagging. The supply house can then deliver and distribute the materials based on these breakouts, saving the contractor a tremendous amount of work.

Change Orders

Once a project is underway, change orders are almost inevitable. The profitability of a project can be greatly affected by how well these are managed and how quickly and accurately new quotes are drawn up. Contractors have long used their estimating systems to develop change orders, but today's advanced systems make it much easier and less time consuming.

In the past, when project managers received a change order, they would have to thumb through thousands of takeoff lines to find the original items in their estimate. With the advanced graphical filtering capabilities of today's estimating systems, a user can go right to the desired drawing and system and instantly see the layout of the pipe system on the screen. To quickly locate the lines of takeoff that the change order modifies, they can just click on one of the items on screen to automatically display them in the takeoff audit trail.

To document and justify a change order price, project managers can run "before" and "after" quotes on just the changed takeoff lines. In the graphical view, they can simply select the area or system that needs to be changed and generate a cost report on that portion of the project. After making the required changes, they can re-run the report with the updated materials or systems in place to show how much that particular change order will cost.

No matter what the size or complexity of a project, don't turn your back on your estimating data. You spent a lot of time and money creating your estimate, and that data is valuable well beyond estimating. With the right estimating software, you can easily use your estimate to plan and manage projects more efficiently. And every minute a project manager saves doing paperwork is one more they have to actually manage a job - and make it more profitable.